Carolyn Marlin is a member of the 2021 UServeUtah Youth Council representing the Waterford School in Salt Lake County. During her term on the council, Carolyn conducted a project to engage young volunteers in their communities. She formed Bags of Love Utah, an organization that involves young Utahns in donation drives to address critical needs throughout the state.
Guest Author: Carolyn Marlin
I came up with the idea because I love spending time with kids, having been a camp counselor and avid babysitter. I have seen first hand that kids actually want to “rise to the occasion”, roll up their sleeves and help. They want to feel impactful and produce results, even at a young age. The problem is that most local organizations don’t allow youth to help out until they are 16 plus.
As a member of the UServeUtah Youth Council, I learned the necessary steps that need to take place in order to implement a successful project in the community. I also formed a nonprofit organization, Bags of Love Utah. My organization lends a platform to youth. It aims to educate youth on the social problems that exist in their community and encourages them to engage in age appropriate community service projects. Even at a young age, kids learn that they can be impactful.
My first project was a very successful hygiene drive. I called several homeless shelters in the Salt Lake City area and asked them what their biggest area of need was. The message I got back from almost all of them was a major need for hygiene kits- especially as we were coming into a warm summer. A few shelters also mentioned that they needed backpacks in which to carry the products, so I decided we would bag the products ourselves. I involved my school for the first project. I partnered with The Road Home, a shelter in nearby Midvale.
I made a list of what would be most needed and helpful. This included items such as shampoo, body wash, conditioner, towels, washcloths, razors, shaving cream, sunblock, deodorant, comb, toothbrush, toothbrush covers, toothpaste, floss, and mints. Men’s bags would get additional products like foot powder. Women would get feminine hygiene products such as tampons and pads, as well as hair bands and a folding brush with a small mirror.
There were two ways we received the product. One was by soliciting the school parents and administrators. My hope was that parents would explain the buying and giving to their young children. Boxes were set up throughout the school to collect products. The other way we collected was through money donations from small corporations and individual donations. After a month of solicitation using our schools existing newsletters and social media platforms, we received a great amount of product and funding. I price shopped through websites of products so we could get the product inexpensively with the funds we had.
Next, we did a day of bagging that involved young kids. We set an initial goal of 100 bags. On May 14, there was an already planned middle school social event and I tied the hygiene project to that. Captive audience! Older volunteers (I was able to get 17 high school volunteers) packed the bags.
We formed an assembly line to efficiently pack the bags and spent time organizing the tables. On Table 1 were the bags (black for boys and mint green for girls) and papers that described the order of packing. Tables 2-4 were all the items in the order we wanted the items bagged. Table 5 had additional items for boys. Table 6 had additional items for girls. Table 7 was a page with a statement about homelessness in Utah and some information about the project they had just helped out with.
We created 140 bags!!! Over 30 middle school volunteers came out!
We are planning more drives throughout the summer that will engage youth. One potential drive is for food insecure kids. I have reached out to a few schools and organizations to start this process. Another drive will be with United Way for school supplies. We will likely hold that in July, getting the final bags to them in the beginning of August. We are hoping to reach 500 bags of love by the end of the summer and feel we can do it!
If you would like to support Carolyn and Bags of Love Utah, please visit bagsofloveutah.com.
Photo credits to McKenzie Snow